The Potential of Unified Communications to Transform Irish Hospitals

Stephen Mulligan
On: 26 Jul 2018
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UC for Hospitals

If a new antibiotic or surgical technique is discovered and passed as fit for purpose, it’s not long before its use spreads through the medical profession to the benefit of everyone. Non-medical advances can also have a tremendous benefit to how the hospital environment functions. Adoption of a Unified Communications (UC) environment, for example, could benefit all hospital staff and patients by improving efficiency and collaboration while also reducing costs.

The evolution of culture and technology.

Behind the scenes, hospitals in Ireland have their own unique characteristics, both technically and culturally. However, they all share a common set of goals – the wellbeing of their patients and the delivery of a quality and value-for-money service, whether that money comes from the public or private purse.

Organisational culture in healthcare (as indeed in any working environment) varies greatly from one hospital to another and usually is the result of years or decades of cultural evolution. The technological evolution of IT systems in hospitals is similar in that changes usually occur relatively slowly and in many cases, an IT solution that works will be given the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” treatment. Over years or decades, this leads to “legacy” systems remaining in place despite them being more than overdue for an upgrade or replacement. Of course, this then places additional risk on IT. If the legacy system fails, the fix can be difficult as maintenance contracts may have expired, parts can be hard to come by, vendors may even have ceased to exist, etc.

Naturally, in a clinical environment, priority (read “budget”) will usually and understandably be directed towards life-saving machinery and treatments. In this context, the business case to replace or upgrade the phone system or drive forward the UC agenda can be a tricky one. However, it’s fair to say that if you speak to anyone in a hospital, they will tell you that a functioning and robust phone system is an absolute must-have. Clinical staff on-duty and on-call must be contactable at all times. Not being able to get hold of the appropriate consultant, doctor or nurse when they are needed could literally be a life or death situation.

A correctly designed Unified Communications environment can lead to a much more robust contact strategy for all staff. For example, UC…

  • brings the desk phone and mobile phone together as one
  • creates powerful, flexible call flows and “single number reach” to ensure one call is all that’s required to contact a member of staff
  • enables corporate-grade secure instant messaging (replacing WhatsApp)
  • implements “presence” to give powerful status information on staff availability
  • enables simple-to-use video/ web conferencing solutions
  • integrates with other hospital systems (e.g. paging solutions)

A Unified Communications strategy within a hospital would, in fact, actively support the provision of care to patients as well as enabling operational improvements.

The benefits of simplification.

A Hosted UC solution for a hospital or group of hospitals will reduce communications complexity, for users and IT, and remove the errors and inefficiencies complexity can cause. The very nature of UC means that all devices – desk phones, smartphones, laptops, tablets and PCs – work seamlessly together to deliver more reliable and available communication as well as easier and more effective document sharing and collaboration.

Employee training is simplified and onboarding is accelerated. With a common UC approach, employees who move between hospitals, clinics, offices and other locations won’t need to retrain on each communication system before they can start work. Also, a staff member can log out of one phone and log in to another. Once they do this, their profile (their number, their speed dials, phone book, phone settings, etc.) will automatically download to the new phone they’ve logged into.

Bigger picture benefits.

The benefits mentioned above are just the beginning. If we look beyond a single hospital or group of hospitals, the positive effect of the UC solution can be magnified. With almost 50 hospitals in Dublin alone, having one shared Hosted UC environment for them all would mean only one system to roll out across all premises, making initial deployment quicker and less costly. It also reduces running costs as UC eliminates all line rental costs. Instead, UC uses the network infrastructure hospitals already have. This eliminates any large, upfront capital expenditure and significantly reduces ongoing costs. With Hosted UC, hospitals pay only for what they use – per user, per month.

Hosted UC, as the name suggests, is not located on any hospital’s premises and does not require hospital resources for its maintenance, management and security. Rather, it is hosted by the managed service provider. A hosted (or cloud-based) solution delivered by a competent and experienced partner means all management, maintenance and security is looked after by the provider. The server hardware is located in Tier-3 data centres with a far higher level of uptime and security than local server rooms could ever achieve. The solution is delivered over secure private network connections and all communications – voice, messaging and video – can be encrypted if required.

A taste of a common solution with Healthmail.

Many hospitals, GPs and pharmacies have already adopted one common digital communications solution, namely the Healthmail service. Currently connecting over 2,500 healthcare providers throughout Ireland, Healthmail is a secure clinical email service for sending and receiving patient information. In one recent example, it enabled a GP to send the blood test results and other clinical information of a nursing home resident with limited mobility to a consultant Haematologist, who promptly responded with advice within 24 hours and used the same system to send a prescription to the nursing home.

The solution enables quick treatment and can save patients a difficult journey to Outpatients. In much the same way, UC can increase the speed and efficiency of communications, patient care and treatment.